Friday, March 18, 2016 10:28 pm
Supporters of Brazil’s ruling Workers’ Party joined street rallies on Friday to back the beleaguered government of President Dilma Rousseff, while her opponents in Congress started the clock on impeachment proceedings.
Brazil’s political crisis also reached the Supreme Court, which has received a dozen motions to suspend this week’s appointment of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as Rousseff’s chief of staff.
The post, which has inflamed government opponents, gives a boost to Lula’s political heir and also provides him with legal shield from graft investigators, as only the Supreme Court has jurisdiction over cases involving sitting cabinet ministers.
Before Friday’s pro-government protests, thousands of supporters gathered on Sao Paulo’s Paulista Avenue, clad in the bright red Workers’ Party shirts and surrounded by a heavy police presence.
“We are all Dilma,” read a sign carried by several women.
Hours earlier, riot police fired water cannon and tear gas disperse anti-government protesters who had blocked the same central Sao Paulo thoroughfare since Wednesday evening, when demonstrations erupted against Lula’s appointment as minister.
Opponents say his nomination is designed to help Lula evade prosecutors who charged him with money laundering and fraud linked to the biggest corruption probe in Brazil’s history, centered on state oil firm Petrobras.
Lula’s legal situation as minister was uncertain after Rousseff’s opponents filed a flurry of requests for court injunctions to suspend his appointment on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and obstructed justice. Two injunctions were issued but overruled after the attorney general appealed, asking the Supreme Court to rule on the motions.
In Brasilia, where thousands of demonstrators have demanded Rousseff’s ouster over the last two days, police told protesters to stay away from the Congress building, where a pro-government demonstration was planned for 5 p.m (2000 GMT).
In the lower house of Congress, opposition parties hurried along impeachment proceedings against Rousseff by holding a session on Friday, when lawmakers are usually away from Brasilia.
The president has 10 sessions in the lower house to present her defense and the clock started on those 10 sessions on Friday, even though the special impeachment committee did not meet. The impeachment case is centered on allegations that Rousseff broke budget rules to boost spending as she campaigned for re-election in 2014.
Lula and Rousseff both deny any wrongdoing.
Antonio Imbassahy, the leader of the opposition Social Democratic Party of Brazil (PSDB) in the lower house, said the committee could present its findings by mid-April.
Committee chairman Rogerio Rosso, of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) that is part of Rousseff’s governing coalition, said the committee was balanced between lawmakers for and against unseating Rousseff, but recent political events would influence their decisions.
*Reported by Reuters